Adoption 101: Files can lie

If you spend any time at all lurking in adoption groups, you will know that a very common theme under constant discussion is the accuracy of a child's file. For those of you who do not lurk, a child's file is the collection of documents that is compiled to give prospective adoptive parents information about the history and physical health of a particular child. I am sad to say, that these files are not always accurate. In fact, sometimes they are so inaccurate that one wonders if the person compiling them was looking at a different child. Of course, sometimes they are correct, but before actually meeting the child in person, there is no way to know which kind of file you have in front of you. And of course, a child's file will never mention past trauma.

Our experiences with children's files has run the gamut... pretty accurate, missing information, wrong information, and in the case of K., a diagnosis that he never had. There is not much you can about it, except accept that fact that you just will never know essential facts about a child for sure, and decide you can live with the worst-case scenario. Sometimes that is a worst-case scenario that wasn't even listed because the file was wrong. Adoption, like any form of parenting, is a giant leap of faith with absolutely no guarantees.

It can be a shock to parents to arrive in country and be expecting one child and feel as though they have received another. This can be because the needs of the child are far greater than what was listed in the file, or it can be because the trauma of the situation is making a child behave in less than fantastic ways, or some combination of the two. Sometimes this can be so shocking and unnerving and terrifying to the new parents that they decide to not go through with the adoption. This is heart breaking on so many levels. Of course the parents are devastated. Not only are they not coming home with a child, but there is a lot of guilt and distress. It is even more devastating for the child. Once again, this child has been abandoned by adults. While the family was in process, this child was off the lists of available children and has lost that much more time to actually be in a family. If the child is older, this time may cost the child a family forever. Sometimes it means that the child will be labeled as unadoptable and have their file pulled. It is loss upon loss upon loss. No one wins.

This is why experienced adoptive parents spend oh so much time repeating themselves over and over and over...
Do not trust the file.
Commit to the child no matter what.
Be prepared for the absolute worst.
Have a support system in place to talk you through the rough parts.
Educate yourself about trauma and the negative behavior it can cause.
Know what a child in a traumatic transition can look like and be prepared for manic behavior, raging, autistic behavior, non-stop crying, rejection of a parent, or all of these combined.
Listen to the voices of experience and know that what you see in country is not the real child.

We do not mean to be depressing or scary. We want to avoid children being left again. We want parents who are educated and have realistic expectations, and not parents whose eyes are filled with rainbows and happy trees, knowing, just knowing, that the bad stories won't happen to them. Why, they know God called them to do this; He will make sure it is going to be wonderful. (I'll save my personal response to the theologically questionable line of reasoning for another time.)

All of this is really a prelude to my unspeakable anger at a certain commercial produced by a certain cheap ticket company. Essentially, the story line of the commercial goes, couple is adopting, couple buy cheap tickets to go to the child, couple comes home without the child because he was too old. Now, in fairness, I know it is supposed to be funny. Too old in the commercial is a large, hairy, adult. But it's not funny. It's not funny because children are actually left in their country of origin because the adoptive parents deemed that child too old. It's not funny because it happens. Adding more trauma upon trauma to a child is not funny. Ever.

I am also savvy enough to know that any publicity, even bad publicity, is good. The more social media outlets which mention the commercial and the company's name, the higher in the world of internet rankings both of those things go. I refuse to help. Instead, I am going to link to a blog where she does mention these things, but also have several step-by-step instructions as to how you can voice your outrage at this humorless humor. Please, take the time to click the link and follow the directions.


It's one small way that you can help show that our country has not completely lost its collective moral compass.

And since we're on the topic of meeting new children, you can also go and read my latest article about our time in China. Letters from China: An Adoption Story, Part 2 It's that paying gig, you know.


I think making the leap of faith it takes to dive into international adoption almost requires rose colored glasses to some extent, otherwise we'd all be too terrified. I know when we considered "worst case scenario" for our son, Luke, it was, 'well, his delay might not be caught up by the time he goes to school, and he might need to have an IEP. We can handle that.' Our current reality never even crossed our minds. I had no realistic idea of what worst case scenario could look like.
Bless you for sharing! Those of us on this side of adoption know all to well how hard things can be but we don't want to scare future parents. At the same time we need to be honest and not sugar coat things.

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